Conchita at Lakeside
Every day she pushes two hand-trucks
loaded with tapetes and blankets and bolsas,
one at a time down the cobblestone street
to a grove of trees by the lake.
She unties the huge plastic bundles
and strings those ropes as clotheslines
from tree to tree in the grove,
using only her own, old body
in an athletic dance of lassoing and knots.
Then with a long forked pole,
she bends to her tapetes,
each sewn to a stick
and with part of a hangar embedded.
One tapete at a time, Conchita
thrusts them above her head,
hanging them thusly on her lines.
Each blanket, too, she lifts
with the pole that is taller than she is.
The straps of her bolsas, she loops
on a giant circular hook,
strung low for customers to browse.
She lives in a little room
up the street from the lake,
this short and sturdy woman from Oaxaca.
Spanish neither her
native tongue nor mine,
we speak for the weaving of spirits
more than words.
The braid down her back
is still mostly black,
gray only over her forehead
above her dark and lively eyes.
Hijos? I ask. No, her response.
From her arm-sweep gesture, I cannot decipher
if her hijos are dead, or never were.
On Sundays Conchita builds her shop
and sits like a bodhisattva to tend it.
But Monday through Saturday,
reliable as the afternoon,
she weaves the web of her tienda
and then without a costume change,
transforms to Spider Woman, Weaver Goddess.
Around a eucalyptus trunk, she fastens
one end of her back-
She seats herself on the earth
at the exact stretching distance
for the tension of her loom,
and removes her plastic shoes to go to work.
Her strong feet point
straight to the lake.
Her arms begin their dance,
her fingers performing as if on their own.
Conchita weaves, the rhythm
of her motion like the lapping waves,
ageless and unceasing.
Yet around her seems to sparkle
something of a trickster spirit.
Today, my water bottle ruptures—
When I jump up, Conchita points
at the growing puddle and grins.
Is that pee? Ha Ha Ha!
Raucous as the parrot overhead,
she teases me.
The weaver with a twinkle
coaches the serious poet,
teaching me wordlessly
You must laugh about it all.
From separate worlds,
meeting at the sacred lake,
we laugh, the weaver and the poet.
You and I who see her working
cannot know her childhood,
cannot imagine what mother or aunt
from a long ago time and place,
taught her to weave and laugh.
I cannot know Conchita’s longings,
or comprehend the mettle
it takes each day for her
to stay at her work, at her life,
At the end of a day, even when
she sells no weavings at all,
Conchita’s laugh resounds like the call
of a solitary free bird.
When darkness starts to descend,
somewhere Conchita finds the force,
this old woman weaver in Ajijic,
to dismantle her whole tienda
and haul it away again.
Like the imprint of an egret’s wings
on the sky over Lake Chapala,
each dusk Conchita’s presence
beneath the eucalyptus trees—